'Fallen in Love: The Secret Heart of Anne Boleyn' - What I said....

Author: Mel Brownlee /

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the Tower of London on a truly memorable day of the year - the anniversary of the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn. Anyone who knows me, or has the misfortune of reading my many posts on Facebook, knows that I am a very big Tudor history and in particular, Anne Boleyn fan, so for me, the chance to go to the Tower on the day of her death, 477 years later, was sensational. And to add to that, in the New Armouries banqueting hall was a 2-person play on the lady herself.

This play is by a lesser known theatre company called The Red Rose Chain and is titled 'Fallen in Love: The Secret Heart of Anne Boleyn'. I had been looking forward to this play with much anticipation but I was also anxious. As the play only depicted Anne and her brother George, Lord Rochford, I was a little nervous about the actors. I have watched many films, TV programs and documentaries and can only recall ever watching 2 actresses that I truly thought captured Anne in all of her charisma and glory - Natalie Dormer of The Tudors and Geneviève Bujold of Anne of the Thousand Days.

Neither may have looked very much like her, in fact when I first saw Natalie Dormer and saw her intense blue eyes I immediately wondered why on earth they had cast her for the part of Anne whose infamous brown "almost black" eyes were what made her extremely appealing to men, especially the King, despite her being "not one of the most handsomest women in the world". But she soon proved herself worthy of playing such a woman and immediately set the bar very high for that role. It also goes a long way that Natalie Dormer was already very passionate about Anne Boleyn and she endeavoured to not only act her as true to character as she could but also to insist that the script writers ceased in portraying her as a calculating and ruthless vixen, but as a woman who was just a pawn in the games and advancement of men. Bujold possessed a lot more je ne sais quoi than Dormer in the sense that she was a Frenchwoman and immediately had the accent of Anne down pat. As Anne grew up in the French court, she spoke fluent French and is said to have had quite a thick French accent, blended with her English accent, which also added to her allure and sex appeal. She was witty, temperate but whilst she may have had the same air about her as Dormer's Anne, she also portrayed her as having been a very cold and hard woman in her early courtship of Henry VIII.

Dormer showed Anne to be clever and level headed but she also showed a side to Anne that is often swept under the carpet - her love for the King. It's not hard to act as though you are falling in love with Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Henry VIII in The Tudors) but we had never seen Anne like this before, and many people think of her as an ambitious, ruthless woman who had no love for the king and above all else desired the be queen. For me, it was refreshing to see Anne as a human, as a woman, and that she was in fact susceptible to the charm of a king who, for his time, was extremely good looking and quite a catch. Bujold's Anne was the very opposite, only ever showing contempt for Henry and only ever admitting that she loved him after years of frustrating courtship. Both portrayals of Anne were excellent, but Natalie Dormer's has always been my favourite as it showed Anne in many different lights in such a way that the viewer really felt like they could relate to her.

So, going into the play I had high expectations of the girl who would play Anne - but not high hopes. The scene was set around an old four-poster bed and started off with George Boleyn laying down, reciting a song to himself. After about 15 minutes I found that I was pleasantly surprised. Not only that, but I was laughing in almost every scene - both actors were enormously talented and very humorous indeed.

I had never developed much of an opinion of George Boleyn and reports of him are quite contradicting. Some say he was a closet homosexual (The Tudors heavily implies this), others say he was a great womaniser but all reports point to him being as ambitious as his father and uncles, the Duke of Norfolk, but not quite as callous. He did, however, have a very close and loving relationship with Anne - which later gave credence to the charges fabricated by Master Secretary, Thomas Cromwell, when he "thought up and plotted the death of the concubine" - and was often in her bedchambers and a rock for Anne during hard times, and there were many of those.

Given that I was unsure of how I felt about George, I was not sure what to expect from him in the play but I have to say that the actor they cast as him did a fantastic job. He was extremely funny, charismatic and seemed to have a lot more of a conscience and moral compass than his sister in the play - and most of the members of the Boleyn faction. His impressions of King Henry VIII are of particular note as you can only imagine the fun he must have made of the tyrannical, irrational and arrogant King during his sisters courtship and marriage to him. It was highly amusing to say the least.

As for Anne, the actress who played her was delightful but I did feel that she overacted quite a lot throughout the play, as though playing Anne did not come naturally to her. She seemed to put on a very deep, strong and masculine voice which made me wonder if she was trying her hardest to mimic Natalie Dormers Anne as she had quite the same manner of speaking. The play also showed her to be very hard-hearted, very cruel and very calculating which I did not appreciate at all. But other than that she was very good, also extremely amusing and it seemed like she had a passion for her role which is always nice - unlike Natalie Portman whose lack of wit, charisma and understanding of her character was one of the many great fails of The Other Boleyn Girl.

As much as I enjoyed the play and feel like it was £27 very well spent, I cannot help but agree with many critics when it comes to the incestuous undertone of the performance.

Anne and George died under trumped up charges of adultery and incest. Anne was accused of "inciting her own natural brother to violate her" and records of the trial state that she had "tempted her brother with her tongue in the said George's mouth and the said George's tongue in hers." They both suffered the highest price for these allegations and were put to death for treason and incest. Since this particular charge is so sensitive in Anne Boleyn's case - as recognised by her in her execution speech when she pleaded that "if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge it the best" - many, many years have been spent trying to clear her name, and Lord Rochford's.

What we know of Anne and her brother is that they were very close, as many brothers and sisters have been and are, and that there was nothing untoward about their behaviour. They had loved and supported each other their whole lives, through unhappy marriage matches, to courting the King of England, to the miscarriages of the Queens - in a family of ambitious and ruthless adults, they only had one another. Neither of them, but especially Anne, wanted to go the way of their sister, Mary and they clung to each other throughout their trials and their celebrations. They were family after all. All of this would have gone unnoticed had it not been for the hatred both Thomas Cromwell was harbouring for the queen and for the resentment Lady Rochford (Jane Parker, George's wife) had for her husband.

Anne had always been a religious woman; she had, after all, brought about the reformation that has made our country what it is today. She may have turned her back on the corrupt doctrines of papal authority, but she never turned her back on God and held a steadfast faith until the day she died. Cromwell, who Anne had once described as "my man", was a Lutheran and a secret heretic. For quite some time he was able to help and advance Anne's cause and the "great matter" of the King - his annulment to Katherine of Aragon. But after her marriage to the King, Anne had started to resent how Cromwell, who now held a great deal of power at court, was destroying all of the monasteries and abbeys, transferring their wealth and riches straight into the Privy Purse. This would have only benefited Anne and added to her own wealth, but she was a woman of faith and did not believe that this was the correct way to use the money of the churches.

She wanted the riches to be distributed to the poor and to charities and because of their conflicting interests, she and Cromwell came to blows many times with Anne even threatening to have his head cut off. She was known to be an ill-tempered and fiery woman whose influence over the King was so great that even a man of Cromwell's power could be reduced to the scaffold had she wished it. Cromwell would have watched what had happened to Thomas More, a very close and beloved friend of the Kings who was executed for refusing the acknowledge Henry as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. Even More was not safe from Anne's overwhelming hold over the King and Cromwell knew that, even though Henry's love for his wife had waned due to her inability to provide him with a male heir, she still held a considerable amount of power over him and not even he "dared to question her".

Knowing all of this, and fearing for his own life, Thomas Cromwell got to work on bringing down his onetime ally. He was helped in his cause by the Lady Rochford who had become insanely jealous of the relationship between her husband and the queen. This was the perfect time for Cromwell to strike. Charges of adultery would be bad enough by themselves but a charge of incest would seal Anne's fate and prevent her from ever being able to regain her power over the King and destroy the Master Secretary.

Since we are all very aware of how malicious and and fallacious the charges against Anne and her brother were, I would have sincerely hoped that the Fallen in Love would err on the side of caution when depicting the two of them together. However, it did not. The sexual tension and chemistry was there from the start. The flirting was always very suspicious and quite often the pair would kiss on the lips. This was quite a common practice for siblings in the middle ages, but in this particular instance, the kisses were far too passionate, far too lingering and did not give help to Anne's cause at all. Unfortunately, as good as the play was, that left a rather bitter taste in my mouth and I couldn't help but feel like the director had let Anne down a little.

So, despite the very obvious incestuous undertones of the play, and the regular misplaced historical quote, I most heartily recommend unto you all this production and ask anyone who has a passion for Anne Boleyn, the Tudors, or just history in general to please go to see it – it is very worth it and certainly was a great way to commemorate the day of her execution and to remember such an amazing, courageous and strong woman who will never be forgotten.



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